Feel Better, Live Better: Marriage is The Capacity to be Empathic, Coupled with A Willingness to be Vulnerable

Shame is such an ugly feeling. It’s sneaky and vengeful and so very confusing. It covers us and holds us down like an anchor on a big ole submarine. It’s so very powerful, it consumes us until we discover its weakness – Vulnerability and Empathy. Isn’t it bizarre that vulnerability, something we think of as a weakness, is actually so strong it conquers something as big and powerful as shame? I find that amazing!

Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly”, tells us that empathy is the cure for shame. She tells us that shame cannot survive in the presence of empathy, understanding, and validity and that the way to express true empathy is by sitting with another person in their pain letting them know – “Yeah, I get it – me too”. What I’ve found, in my experience counseling others, is that to truly feel the pain of others – their sorrow, regret, fear, anger, etc, we must connect with them on an emotional level – without shaming. We must allow others to freely express their pain without judgment. But, in order to do this, we must first connect with our own emotional pain. We can’t hide from it and we can’t be shamed by it. Through our experiences with our own emotional pain, we come to know empathy and develop a need for connectedness to others. If I allow myself to experience my own pain without shaming myself, I can then love others through their pain without shaming them – that’s empathy.

I see a lot of couples in my practice and find that couples typically come into counseling because they feel disconnected – they are having difficulty feeling their partner’s pain – empathy. Couples come into the relationship from different worlds expecting things to be easy. The truth is, marriage is hard and nobody prepared us for hard. But nobody said it was going to be easy either, we just expected it to be easy because the hormones that brought us together were very strong and made love appear easy – The Infatuation Trap. Infatuation has one thing on its mind – hook-up and procreate! The thing infatuation doesn’t consider is that we are two different individuals coming from two different worlds with different likes and dislikes. From the time we are born until the time we die we are building what William Glasser refers to as a “quality world” from a book he co-authored with his wife Carleen, “The Eight Lessons For A Happier Marriage”. The things we put into our “quality world” are the things that bring us pleasure so my quality world is filled with romantic comedies, warm fireplaces, and hot cocoa while my husband’s quality world is filled with crowded restaurants, red meat, and cold beer. So you see there could be a problem after the infatuation period begins to wind down.

I am a visual learner so I use a lot of analogies to understand complex things. I see the marriage experience as kind of like trying to see and hear one another from the far side of the table, only this table is one of those really long ones you see in the movies set back in the days of kings and queens. So I’m sitting at my end of the table and my spouse, AKA “The King” is sitting at the other end of this enormous table and he can’t hear a thing I’m saying. He’s trying to hear me but I’m too far away. As the servants begin bringing in the feast, we begin getting further and further apart – all this food is coming between us. We become engulfed in the whole process and soon find ourselves becoming bored with one another because we never really got to know one another in the first place; we were too distracted by the show. Now we’re bombarded by all the junk we brought into the marriage from our previous lives – If I don’t clear away my own junk, it begins to pile up between us like unwashed dishes and rotting food and it just keeps piling higher and higher until I can’t see or hear you way down there at the other end of the table anymore and you can’t see or hear me either. The way we keep the table cleared is by being vulnerable – we have to learn to ask for what we need, “Hey I can’t hear you. Are you still there. It’s pretty scary down here all by myself. Can you clear away some of your junk so I know you’re still there?”

Being vulnerable is probably the scariest thing we do with our partners and yet it is the single biggest contributing factor to having a blissful and happy marriage. I think marriage is practicing the capacity to be empathic coupled with a willingness to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable with your partner is much like going into the arena, not knowing what to expect – one more analogy before closing. I tell my clients that being vulnerable in your relationship is like being willing to go into the arena without your armor or your weapons – Yikes! Imagine for a moment what that would be like if you lived back in the time of kings and queens and now we’re adding “Gladiators”! The vulnerability we experience in a love relationship is like agreeing to go into the arena (meeting one another in the middle) agreeing to leave our armor at the door (totally exposed) while also agreeing to leave our weapons at the door (completely defenseless). Why would we do such a thing – Because you are worth it; because the relationship is worth it! Leaving our armor at the door is like letting our guard down, going in without our shield – agreeing to not use things like reasoning, rationalizing, deflecting, appeasing, placating, or yelling to shut things down – these are the things we use to protect ourselves during relationship conflict. We also agree to go in without our weapons – agreeing to not strike back even if we are slammed to the floor – we agree to not use things like criticizing, judging, interrogating, controlling, attacking, disapproving, or yelling to make a point. Being willing to share the things we fear the most about ourselves, knowing all the while that we may get punched in the gut yet, we agree to not punch back; we may get shot in the heart yet, we agree to not shoot back. Why would we agree to do such a thing? Because you are worth it; because the relationship is worth it! And because my greatest desire is that you feel the same way. Sue Johnson, author of “Hold Me Tight”, describes this desire to nurture one another and be truly connected with one another like two porcupines in the winter needing one another for warmth but knowing the danger of being poked with those horrid quills. I think the only way to accomplish this is Me coming to You belly-up with my vulnerabilities exposed asking you to trust that I will meet you in the middle of the arena wholeheartedly – not only with My best interest at heart but also with Your best interest at heart rather than, halfheartedly – thinking only of myself.

I can just see those little porcupines shivering with fright, holding onto one another tight, belly- to-belly, praying they make it through the night. Can’t you?

Written by Tammy Kennedy LPC

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

Feel Better, Live Better: Love is patient, Love is Kind

“I believe forgiveness frees the heart and soul of a darkness that was never

intended to live there”

What I’ve seen in therapy is nothing short of a miracle because what I’ve seen is couples giving one another grace that does not come naturally. I’ve seen couples display acts of kindness that come only with love, but not just any love, this is an act of “true” love. Amazingly, these acts of love have been exhibited in instances where the very nature of human existence instructs us not to love at all but rather to act “as if” at war with the enemy. As beings of a higher order, we are capable of many things, but is true love one of those things? Are we capable of loving those who are a threat to us – those who have hurt us to the core – those whose very actions say they are at war with us? Maybe the more important question is – Is forgiveness natural? Is this true love?

The therapeutic process allows clinicians to see people turn from hate, distain, and distrust, potentially endangering their own self-pride, self-esteem, and self-worth, and turn instead to love, respect, and altruism. People choose to love, when given the chance. We are confused when messages are mixed between convictions and behaviors. We expect others to uphold their commitments to us and we’re blind-sided when they instead hurt us with acts of disloyalty, dishonesty, and vengeance. Yet when given the chance to forgive, we forgive. I believe this is a good argument for the existence of “true” love.

I believe we are born to be in relation with one another. I believe we have an innate longing for connectedness. I believe love is a basic need for survival. I believe we choose to forgive in order to maintain our natural need to love and to be loved; we trust those who have betrayed us to avoid disconnection. I have witnessed such behavior in couple’s therapy. I have witnessed the beauty of forgiveness for infidelity, dishonesty, and disloyalty. There is no greater pleasure to a therapist than to witness such forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift some of us never experience. Forgiveness is one of the most empowering acts human beings exchange with one another yet, it is one of the most difficult to offer or accept. Why? Because at first glance, forgiveness appears to be an act of weakness. People perceive the act of forgiveness as challenging to their self-pride, self-esteem, and self-worth. Forgiveness is one of the most humble things we do as human beings because it calls us to love truly. It calls us to love emphatically, loving “as if” from the heart of the very ones who have hurt us. Not only are we to set aside the pain they have caused but we are called also to put their needs before our own? How can we do this? Only through the act of “true” love. Forgiveness may be the most selfless act we ever offer; an unwillingness to forgive, stands in the way of altruism.

We can learn from one another the power of loving with our whole-self. A love that calls us to come to the middle “wholeheartedly”, a term used by Brene` Brown in her book Daring Greatly, Gotham Books, 2012. I think loving wholeheartedly is our chance to love others considering not only what’s in the best interest of “me”, but also what’s in the best interest of “you”. When we come to the middle wholeheartedly rather than half-heartedly, we come vulnerable, willing to step outside “me” to see “you”. When I see you first, I then love you truly. I’m then loving myself enough to give myself the gift of wholehearted love, a love that is the shared interest of both me and you – it’s unselfish, fearless, and completely vulnerable. It’s trusting me enough to trust you. That’s the kind of love I want, need, and desire and I believe it is a love that can be taught. It is by sharing through acts of humility that we learn to live out our most valued attributes.

Written by Tammy Kennedy LPC

Pinnacle Counseling

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

What the Mind/Body connection teaches us about relationships?

By Terry Richardson MSW LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

PinnacleCounselingNWA.com

Feel Better Live Better- What the Mind/Body connection teaches us about relationships?

Of the most important things we need to know about life, having healthy relationships is foremost. So where do we learn this vital information? It’s easy to identify relationships that aren’t working, a short read of the newspaper, fifteen minutes of the evening news broadcast or just standing in line at the grocery store reveals the difficult and sometimes tragic results of a relationship gone wrong. So what does a healthy relationship have? From my perspective, each of us, in our mind/body existence, are given a natural example of the potentially perfect relationship.

The essential elements of all healthy relationships are balance, contrast and complementarity. Effective application of these elements give us tools to interact with family, friends and coworkers, and how we treat ourselves.

In order to illustrate the mind/body relationship think for a moment about your body as a vehicle and your mind as the driver. The next time you get into your car, consider the relationship you have established with it because of the cooperative and collaborative agreement you have with it, you accomplish your purpose of being transported from point “A” to point “B”, and whether it’s in a Lamborghini or a Ford, the results are the same. The mind/body relationship your “self” is the journey you are on and the people in your life are passengers for the trip. Are you having fun yet?

Balance

What is balance? One physical definition is “the equalization of forces.” In other works, neither the body or mind dominates or assumes complete control. If you’ve ever experienced a stuck gas pedal wildly accelerating, had to push a car you’ve failed to fuel, or the frustration of an exhaustingly long trip, and in spite of “cruise control” your hands on the wheel – literally in “co-operation.” In a healthy relationship sharing responsibility is more productive than dominance or control.

Contrast

Night and day, sweet and sour, sharp and dull, old and young. Contrast is what helps us examine and experience one thing by knowing its counterpart. Though not always an opposite, contrast is an inescapable acknowledge of the other side of the coin, the “flip side” of what is known versus the unknown. Contrast helps us get clarity about our own identity by providing a framework of reference that makes us distinct from our surroundings. A healthy relationship creates a backdrop in our experience of life so that we might more clearly define and know who we are.

Complementarity

I would be ludicrous to get behind the driver’s seat and just sit there, waiting for the trip to start. Why? It is the interaction of all of the components involved that makes the difference. Complementarity is the harmonic blending of balance and contrast into action. It is the reason that apparently impossible things can happen – the reason you can” drive” to St. Louis in 5 hours. When we focus on complementarity in our relationships, conflicts created by power struggles and insecurities created by differences, dissolve. In a healthy relationship strengths and differences are assets that make the sum greater than its parts.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I often remind couples or individuals I am working with, that most people know more about maintaining a car that a relationship. That is primarily because we too often accept relationships as a “given” part of life, whereas a car is something we work for, and need to know how to take care of. Our learning about relationships “just happens’ through observation and experience (primarily trial and error) and when we do ask for advice we generally don’t consult the experts.

The next time you find yourself unhappily stuck by the side of the road, the mind/body owner’s manual of relationships might be the first place to look.

Dealing with Change

Changes occur all day long.  An appointment gets cancelled, you encounter a detour on the way home, you were anticipating roast beef for dinner and you got chicken.  It’s what life is and while you might get a bit frustrated, you learn to roll with it.  But what about the big changes?  Job transfers, marriage, divorce, children, medical changes and the death of someone you love.  How do you learn to adapt with the changes that will affect the rest of your life?

Whether you’re leaving the community that you’ve built strong relations with or having to bury a loved one, you will feel anger because it wasn’t your choice for this to happen to you.  Healthy coping skills result in better emotional stability.  Poor coping skills result in anger and resentment.

First, it is helpful to recognize that you are in the midst of change and that change is part of you.  Instead of thinking about all the negative issues, try making a list of all the positive benefits of this change.  Visualize all the possibilities and write them down.  Make up a “to do” list if there are things you need to accomplish before the change happens.  Call a friend and discuss your fears and ask for their advice.  If you feel that you can’t get past your fear, anger and resentment you may need to talk to a professional.  In talking with a therapist you will get an unbiased opinion and they will be able to give you some insight and the coping tools so that you can move on and embrace your changes.

“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” ~ Jim Rohn

The Habit of People Pleasing

Are you in the habit of always thinking of everyone else first and putting your own needs dead last?  Well, you are not alone!  That issue comes up frequently when someone shares with me about their anxiety or depression.  There are likely several factors at play that cause you to sell yourself short.  But in the end, you are left feeling resentful and exhausted.  Who is there to meet your needs?

We have to start “showing up” and making our own needs and wants known.  A favorite saying of mine is, “You teach others how to treat you by what you allow”.  Powerful stuff! Think about your current relationships.  Do these relationships have a 50/50 balance, with you and the other person being equally important?  If not, why?  Chances are, you definitely deserve to own 50% of the input in the relationship.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a powerful tool for overcoming the habit of people pleasing.  We learn a life time of “messages” we receive from others which reinforce that our opinion doesn’t matter.  We learn that it’s not ok to make others upset or disappoint them. That belief may have served you once in your life, but with those kinds of thinking patterns our souls can really take a beating after a while.  CBT helps by uncovering the messages you hold to be true and teaches you to re-write the script.  The technique of assertive communication is important here, too.  The two extremes, passive and aggressive styles of communication, usually aren’t very helpful in the long run.  Assertive communication says “Your needs matter, and so do mine”.  Try to get in the habit of thinking and responding with that thought in mind.

To many, making themselves a priority has never crossed their mind.  How is there room for that when you are busy being supermom/wife/employee…?  You may find that by taking care of yourself first, or at least making your self-care an equal priority in the equation, you have more to give to others.  You may feel guilt about this, and frankly others may try to make you feel guilty about it, but self-care is vital to mental and physical health.  Self-care can be as simple as taking 15 minutes to enjoy coffee with a friend, getting to the gym for a work out, reading quietly- anything you want that is nurturing to your soul.  The only requirement is that it takes care of YOU.  It is ok to be nice to yourself!

Rachael Nachtigal, LPC

3 Common Therapy Myths

Myth #1:  Counselors only want to give me medication.
Due to state and federal guidelines, counselors are not able to write prescriptions for medication. Counselors operate as a profession by using a variety of techniques within the client-counselor relationship to promote and explore personal growth and development with the client.

Myth #2:  If I attend therapy, everyone will know about my problems.
The relationship between the client and the counselor is protected by legal confidentiality. Counselors seek to provide an environment of safety and calm to work through even the toughest of personal issues. At Pinnacle Counseling, we go above and beyond o ensure that our clients’ information, treatment, and medical records are kept completely private and handled with the utmost discretion.

Myth #3:  The cost of therapy is too high. I would never be able to afford it.
While the cost of therapy and treatment is an expense in itself, there are tools that you can use when deciding how to pay for the cost of your treatment. One option is insurance, depending on your insurance company and the type of coverage offered for mental health treatment. Another option could be a plan that you work out with your counselor for self-payment of therapy costs. It is vital that the lines of communication between the client and the counselor always be open and honest when discussing treatment and the same is true for therapy costs.

Whatever your concerns are, at Pinnacle Counseling we are ready to listen and help you take that first step in the process of recovery or a healthier lifestyle.

 

Erika McCaghren

Expanding the Pinnacle Counseling team!

There are exciting things happening at Pinnacle Counseling. We have updated our website to feature the new additions to our counseling staff, Rachel Nachtigal, LPC and Joel Gray, LPC. They are proud members of the Pinnacle Counseling team, both specializing in Mental Health and Relationship Counseling.

You can follow all of the news straight from the source by checking out our website at http://pinnaclecounselingnwa.com/. Or by following us on twitter at @Pinnacle_Cares or liking us on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PinnacleCounseling. So check them out and get to know us better. We look forward to hearing from you.

Check out our newest welcome video

As just one new feature of the Pinnacle website, we now have a new welcome video. The short clip explains who we are as a mental healthcare team and why we are proud of what we do at Pinnacle Counseling. For more information, click here to view the clip and we look forward to seeing you soon.

Great marriages: more than happy, magical accidents

Marriage is not a casual endeavor. Your spouse is your partner in the project of building your life. Every part of your life. From financial management to toothpaste management, your spouse plays a key role. A great marriage is an evolving work of art. The key word here may be work. This is a good thing. A great marriage is not a happy magical accident. A great marriage is the result of work. Frequently it will be the fun type of work. Sometimes it will be the work type of work.

Start here:

  • Decide that you want to have a great marriage. Then figure our what a great marriage is. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller: Your marriage moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you might miss it.
  • How are you two doing communicating your needs? Do you understand the difference between your needs and your wants?Are you having any fun?
  • Does your marriage have a spiritual orientation?
  • Have you fallen in love lately? If you have been married more than a couple of weeks, your spouse is not the same person you married. Have you fallen in love with this newer version of your husband or wife?
  • How is your marriage working as a small business? Are you building wealth? Financial security is key.
  • What are you excited about right now? What aspect of the future?
  • How is the physical intimacy in you marriage? Correct answer: Awesome! This is supposed to be the fun part. If it’s not great, that’s okay. As long as you both want it to be great, it can be.

These bullets, of course, are just a jumping off point, a place to begin a very important conversation. If at all possible, the conversation itself should be fun.